In April 1937, the small Spanish town of Guernica, the center of Basque culture and tradition in Spain, was destroyed by German bombers as a prelude to World War II, a total war devised by the German Luftwaffe. Strongman Justo Ansotegui and his two brothers, along with Miguel Navarro and his brother Dodo, emerge as central characters as the Spanish Civil War forces itself upon their community. Justo’s wife and their daughter, Miren, both charismatic and graceful dancers, add elements of both love and compassion to this story of war and tragedy. A blind girl, Alaia Aldecoa, befriends Miren and demonstrates her independence and will to survive during this terrible time.
In his debut novel, Dave Boling does an excellent job in drawing out the characters’ personalities. He cleverly fictionalizes historical events by mixing in living people such as Franco, Picasso, and German flying ace Baron von Richthofen. As you read this marvelous story, you can feel the emotion and joy of the Basque culture as it spreads through the community via its music and religion, the sadness and despair after the attack on Guernica, and the characters’ fortitude as they try to recover after losing their loved ones and then attempt to rebuild their town and their lives. I highly recommend this exceptional novel about one of the world’s great tragedies.